Burundi National Defence Forces (BNDF) troops deployed under the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) have now taken over key locations previously occupied by M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo.
These are Karuba, Mushaki and Kirolirwe which the troops have occupied upon completion of ongoing reconnaissance and verification of the withdrawal of the armed group.
The regional force, in a statement released on Thursday, said the BNDF troops are further expected to deploy to Kitchanga.
“M23 has withdrawn from Sake, Karuba, Mushaki, Neenero, Kirolirwe, Kibirizi, Mweso and adjacent areas in compliance with the decision of East Africa Community heads of state mini-summit held on 17th February 2023 in Addis Ababa, marking a significant milestone in the ongoing phased withdrawal," EACRF said.
The deployment of BNDF troops began on March 5 and ended last week when the last batch was airlifted to Goma International Airport on March 15 by KDF soldiers.
“A Joint Bureau comprising the Ad Hoc Verification Mechanism (AVM), EACRF, Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) and East Africa Community Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (EACMVM) verified the M23 withdrawal and observance of the ceasefire within theatre on Tuesday, 21 March 2023, marking a very significant milestone towards restoring peace and stability in Eastern DRC,” added the statement.
The withdrawal and subsequent deployment of EACRF, has led to a significant return of internally displaced persons to their homes.
The deployment of the troops has further facilitated humanitarian assistance in the vacated areas and opened up the main supply route from Sake to Kitchanga through Kirolirwe where traffic comprising trucks, lorries and motorcycles facilitating the free movement of people and goods can be witnessed.
Second to deploy troops
Burundi is the second country to deploy troops to the Eastern DRC under EACRF following the deployment of Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) in November last year.
Their deployment in the areas continues in line with the re-posturing recommended by the East African Community Chiefs of Defence Forces/Chiefs of Staff meeting held on February 9, 2023 in Nairobi, making Masisi and Rutshuru territories a multinational sector.
With the new boundaries, Kenyan forces are to be deployed in Kibumba, Rumaghabo, Tongo, Kishishe and Bwiza.
They shall also be co-opted with the South Sudan forces at the Rumaghabo temporary operating base.
Ugandan forces will take charge of Banagana, Kiwanja and Mabega as Burundi forces take control of Kitchanga and Sake.
Yet to deploy
But Uganda and South Sudan are yet to deploy their troops.
In the meantime, M23 has accused the Congolese army — FARDC — of using the areas it has vacated to attack the group's positions and other heavily populated areas as a provocation.
“The M23 acknowledges the endless efforts of the regional leaders and international partners to find peace in Eastern DRC, hence, it urges the DRC government to stop flouting these efforts and to do its part in finding peace.
"Our organisation reiterates its commitment to a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict through a direct dialogue with the DRC government to address the root causes of the conflicts. The M23 stands ready to defend itself and protect the civilian population and their belongings,” M23 Spokesperson Lawrence Kanyuka said in a statement released on Wednesday evening.